Introductions for Joanna Fuhrman & John Koethe

Joanna Fuhrman is the author of three collections published by Hanging Loose Press, most recently Moraine. Her new book, Pageant, has just been released by Alice James Books. From 2001-2003, she was the Monday Night Reading Series coordinator here at the Poetry Project. She teaches creative writing at Rutgers University and in public schools and libraries. Her essay on teaching Jayne Cortez’s work to high school students is in the current issue of Teachers & Writers magazine.

In an interview I recently came across, Joanna Fuhrman quoted Wittgenstein’s “There is no private language”, a rich statement for people, poets, often engaged in conveying our private worlds. Fuhrman, too, recognizes that language is formed in the public sphere for the purpose of communicating in the public sphere. Poems are a public language, though the number of those who choose to participate may be, as she points out, less than the number of Americans who are interested in genital piercing or dressing up as Anime characters for toy robot conventions. Her new book is aptly titled Pageant, a public entertainment consisting of a procession of people. The poems appreciate elaborate display while exposing artifice, for instance in clone school no one looks the same but everyone is. Elaine Equi calls Joanna “a witty visionary for our virtual age” and calls the work “exotic and mundane, retro and futuristic at the same time. Pulsating with surround-sound and a panoply of ‘neon fluid special effects…”. Please welcome Joanna to the Poetry Project.

John Koethe’s most recent book is Ninety-Fifth Street (HarperCollins). From 1973-2009 he was Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, and the first Poet Laureate of Milwaukee. His collection Falling Water won the Kingsley Tufts Award. North Point North: New And Selected Poems was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. In 2005 he was a fellow of the American Academy in Berlin, and in 2008 he was the Elliston Poet in Residence at the University of Cincinnati. He is currently the Bain-Swiggett Professor of Poetry at Princeton University.

John Koethe’s new book, Ninety-fifth Street, features a painting by Rackstraw Downes, an ideal artist to have in mind as we begin our encounter with poems that are deeply concerned with compositional rigor, the architectural space of imagination and human engagement with environment. It is tempting to say that these poems are about confronting mortality but I think, taking a cue, from Koethe himself, they are poems about poetry, or time, or better yet poetry as “a way to live through time.” Places once inhabited by the poet – San Diego, Milwaukee, Berlin and the very idea of selfhood as a place to be inhabited or vacated– are activated by memory, the only way we have to understand history. While making distinctions in place, at the same time Koethe suggests that place can be reduced “To a bare concept, an abstraction that extends ‘from sea to shining sea’. As in his past books, there are moments of disarming first-person acknowledgments such as, “My life is fine, though not the life I’d wanted or imagined,…” that give the reader (this is from Edward Hirsch) “the sensation of thinking itself, of a certain fleeting daily, solitary consciousness rescued from oblivion and help aloft”. Please welcome John Koethe to the Poetry Project.